Today’s Quote: Chinese Words & American Movies

After all the years abroad, he [Imre Galambos] is good at comparing different cultures. He taught both Chinese and American students, and he tells me that Americans don’t have the same relationship to the written word that he noticed among the Chinese. For the Chinese, writing seemed to be the root of their cultural identity, but many of his American students were unfamiliar with their nation’s literary classics. I ask him if anything in American culture might the the right equivalent of writing in China.

“Maybe it’s movies,” he says. “I think the movies are incredibly important in America. That’s how people acquire information about the world. If you ask an American about a subject – say, Buddha – the answer is always through the movies. They’ll talk about ‘The Little Buddha’ or some movie they saw.”

He continues: “I think the movies create this web that texts traditionally created in China. Within the Chinese texts, there was a view of reality, which was a view of other texts. The scholars who lived in this world, they saw their culture as a web. The didn’t live in this physical world; they didn’t talk about the physical world. It was all about history and writing. And America is the same way about movies. People in the movies talk about other movies all the time. There’s an enormous reality, like ‘movie space’ or something, in America. By this time, it’s really built up, and it’s a world that exists on its own. A lot of people experience reality through that. It’s true for me when I’m in America. I watch a lot of movies when I’m there, and I feel like reality is American movies. You might say something and then I’ll say, oh, that reminds me of something in a movie. It’s like dreams and realities, all blending together. You have this feeling, this deja vu feeling about everything.

“The movies are writing. They serve the same purpose; it’s just a different language. In China, they wrote the most in the times when they most needed to redefine themselves. It is not passivity; it is creativity. It’s not taking notes. It’s about rethinking the past and creating the present. It’s about justifying the present, crating the ideology. So in America they have these movies that make people feel American. Like Pearl Harbor. It’s similar to writing, to books. But the movies stay in the mind longer, may be because it’s a more visual language. And it becomes a way that people determine their values. You have these models and patterns that are ready to use. They give a language, just like books do. They give you a language to parse out your personality, to understand it, or display it, or express it.”

– Hungarian born Chinese language scholar Imre Galambos in Oracle Bones – A Journey Between China’s Past and Present by Peter Hessler P.445-446

If you want a street-level understanding of China today in the throes of massive change, Peter Hessler’s book Oracle Bones is a fine introduction.

The book is divided into several chapters, all independent units. So you don’t have to worry about reading the preceding chapters.

Your county library should definitely have the book.

9 Responses to "Today’s Quote: Chinese Words & American Movies"

  1. racer44   March 27, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Nice quote.
    I saw “Raging Bull” and “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” today. Great films, both of them. I liked the latter a bit more. You, I’m sure, would have seen them, being the fine films aficianado that you are. How did you find them? If you haven’t seen them, would you like me to do a review of these two classics? If you’re interested, also consider a series of reviews on “Golden oldies”- A list of famous old films, or films that won the oscars. How about it? Responds:

    No to the Hollywood films.

    We’ll think of some old Tamil films that we don’t have access to here.

  2. STG   March 29, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    is that a rumour or certain that SI employed racer44 as its employee to fillup the empty space in the server? is there a reason why racer44 is so interested to do reviews on your behalf. why racer44 doesn’t run his/her own blog/website to satisfy writing desires… Responds:

    You write: is there a reason why racer44 is so interested to do reviews on your behalf.

    Just between us, Racer44 is writing a script for Hollywood and wanted some writing practice. 😉

    Why do you think James Cameron was in India recently. The meeting with Aamir Khan was a red herring.

  3. STG   March 29, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    I can think of virtually two reasons…

    1. After looking at (blithering idiots) Indian (schmucks) showing thumbs up and whopping box office collections( for his Avatar, he might wanted to study the potential of this huge market. Easily he could have understood that India is in bits and pieces even when it comes to entertainment – northern segment by Bollywood followed by its siblings Kollywood, Tollywood, whatever-wood. Further all these Woods are none other than feces of Hollywood spiced with Indian Garam Masala. Having said that, he would have end up with plan of investing in Entertainment industry of India by producing Avatar-like fantasy films which can easily penetrate into Indian-moviegoers-tastebuds and induce orgasm.

    2. After Avatar kissing the dust on Oscars, temporarily losing King of the World title (which eventually bagged by a Queen), the first thing striked his mind could be Danny Boyle, who played it cool and took home the title by just revealing few odd/dark side of Indian poverty and donnism. So he might have thought that there should lot more left to fulfill his another Oscar dream.

    Peace Responds:

    You write: Having said that, he would have end up with plan of investing in Entertainment industry of India by producing Avatar-like fantasy films which can easily penetrate into Indian-moviegoers-tastebuds and induce orgasm.

    Imagine a Jim Cameron version of Ramayan in 3D.

    Who knows!

    Our pukkat (free) suggestions on the Ramayan cast: Ajith and Abhishek Bachchan as Hanuman in the Tamil and Hindi versions respectively. No need to add tail. 😉

    Trisha and Priyanka Chopra as the evil Soorpanaka in the Tamil and Hindi versions respectively.

    And the peerless Mamooty as Ravan!


  4. STG   March 29, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    Imagine a Jim Cameron version of Ramayan in 3D

    May be 4D? Will he consume another 15yrs until necessary technologies to develop?

    No need to add tail

    Also make-up. Add dialog too…Jim can leave them speaking as usual and with a mild karoke, it would perfectly match with a monkey scream. any doubt?

    You left the three main characters – Ram, Sita and Laxman

    Shahrukh and Aamir Khan’s can be offered (just to f*** their ego over muslim identity)

    Sita – Asin? – As per Ramayan, Sita speaks less but Asin is a chatter box and will beaten the role to death. Ravan would finally plea her to leave Lanka

    Rajni as Ram and Kamal as Laxman
    Sridevi as Sita
    Just to make the people go nostalgic of these trio blockbusters like Moonru mudichu, 16 vayadhinile, etc

    What say? Responds:

    You write: You left the three main characters – Ram, Sita and Laxman…Sita – Asin?

    Not Asin. Noooo.

    What about MNIK director Karan Johar for Sita. 😉

    We accept your suggestion of SRK and Aamir. Since Aamir is the new King of Bollywood, he’ll play Ram and SRK will don the role of Lakshman.

    • STG   March 29, 2010 at 11:35 pm

      If Karan Johar plays Sita, how come SRK could play Laxman? He should be playing Ram right…? 😉 Responds:


      SRK denied he’s gay in Anupama Chopra’s so-called biography of the former King Khan.

  5. STG   March 29, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    btw…is this is film for which racer44 is scripting…? Responds:

    We suspect the script Racer44 is ‘writing’ is an all-item number within the Ramayan framework with Sita entertaining ‘members’ of Raavan’s court.

  6. STG   March 29, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Holy shit…Sita would go for another self-immolation if she happens to read this post. podhum vittudu (enough leave her) Responds:

    If Sita devi were to cavort with Ravan Saar, maybe this is how it might end up. 😉

    Saturday night partyku pogaluam variyaa….one day mattum girlfriend aga variyaa!

  7. STG   March 30, 2010 at 12:00 am

    too much for a person who claim to be in autumn years.

    off-topic: chennai is getting heated-up again…i am ready to give 100 bucks for those who could standstill on the road without slippers at 2PM for just 5 mins…anyone there? Responds:

    1. Now that we’ve fortified our insides with some Gin (and plaintain chips and cheap Belgian cookies) on the side, we’re better equipped to tackle y’all. 😉

    2. We spent the better part of one summer in Chennai a few decades back.

    It’s been raining here on the East Coast for the last couple of days.

    Tornadoes in North Carolina too.

    Gandhiji, please send word that you are no longer alive. 😉

  8. STG   March 30, 2010 at 12:28 am

    Chennai saw its last drop from sky on 8th Jan 2010 since then only sun at various degrees (kissing my little ac while typing – cleaned it last week to face stiff competition with ultimate sun upcoming days). another 4 months chennai would be hell. Responds:

    You write: another 4 months chennai would be hell.

    Ha ha ha.

    As if the stinking cesspool is any less hellish the remaining 8 months!

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